Orthodoxy And Romanianness, 1929

excerpts Orthodoxy is the rhythm in which the most authentic breath of complete life can be found, of life lived with the wish for the progress by which the evil that hurt it is made good, and by which it is elevated towards the perfection, which is its real normal status. Orthodoxy is the true entelechy of life, its direct path, the law that leads it to the ideal contained virtually within the real. It is not the place here to insist on the realism of Orthodoxy, but it will be revealed to any mind that earnestly considers this subject. Saint Maxim the Confessor, a great Christian anthropologist philosopher once said: "If we are made in God's image, we should become ours and God's." (Migne, Patr. Graeca, vol. 90, col. 1189). The authentic reality in us, not the accidental one, is God's image. We should follow the path prescribed by Orthodoxy in order to get to our true reality, which is, now, an ideal for us: to become one and the same with God's image.One might retort: however realistic and necessary this rhythm is, it is nevertheless a rhythm that narrows our freedom as a nation. We don't have ahead of us the wide scope of all possibilities, with no restriction. The reply is easy to give: no people, no social group has ever lived without a certain rhythm of spiritual life. What is possible for an individual, with a limited life as it is, is not possible for a nation that wants to prolong its existence as much as possible. The lack of any lasting ethnic rhythm means anarchy and ethnic dissolution. And the ethnic rhythm with certain duration makes up the tradition, which gives unity to the whole development of a people. If we don't like the Orthodox rhythm, we must take up another, that is, another religion!The question is, though: can we find elsewhere a better rhythm and didn't the Orthodox rhythm somehow shape in our people certain attributes, which are now an integral part of its specific spirituality; didn't the Orthodoxy impress its mark deeply in the Romanian nature? We answered to the first question; for the second, a more concretely focused debate would be required, having constantly in view the present-day spirituality of our nation.We will present here only some remarks, as two thousand years of living together gives us the right to an almost a priori conviction that the Romanian soul was molded and over-baked in the sap of Orthodoxy. Naturally, it is difficult to define mathematically and indisputably the specificity of the Romanian soul and behavior. It can be inferred, but expressing it would immediately betray it, as it is too general. It is a domain of nuances, of imponderability, of extremely delicate intertwinement. Similar dispositions in many peoples are differentiated by a nuance that is hard to capture in words.A feature particular to the Romanian soul and to its artistic manifestations, unanimously accepted, is the feeling of a mystical connection with the animal and vegetal nature. "Mioritza" is just an example in this respect – the most exquisite. The Romanian is brother to the forest, confesses to the birds, caresses the yoked ox, entrusts himself to the little horse. The weeded maize laughs with glee, the apple tree that is not pruned begs the courageous girl to prune it. In stories, in doinas[1], in everyday life the Romanian invests with humanity his relationships with the cattle and with nature. He doesn't take care of his cow as the German, but his relationship with it is much more human, deeper. The German takes care of it from a utilitarian point of view and from a certain disciplined spirit which he adopts in the household as well. The Romanian doesn't take care of it for the reason why he doesn't always take care of his children either: misfortune, poverty, the lack of sustained effort. But he cries with it and caresses it. A new direction is revealed here, in which through education and in prosperous material conditions enormous achievements can be made in the economy. What should we say in particular regarding the bond with the earth? The Romanian, so tolerant in other respects, is capable of murder and can carry on a lifelong lawsuit with someone over a patch of land.This mystical connection with extra-human life is an influence of Orthodoxy. Catholicism and Protestantism admit only to the redemption of man, and this is only conceived of as a simple juristic act of acquittal on God's part; the Orthodoxy sees the whole universe as groaning in the dark and evil together with man and being elevated through God's love to the state of primordial beauty. It is an ontological transformation of the Universe through far-reaching godly powers, not merely the transformation of a juridical relation that concerns only man and is completed through a simple statement of God.The Orthodox priest asperses the yard, the cattle, the field with holy water and, there are prayers for all of these in the Molitvelnic[2]. The godly powers come not only upon man but also upon nature, because the latter is also loved by God. Let's think about Resurrection night! When the first sound of the church bells is heard, the villagers take out water from the wells, because God's power hallows it at that moment. The atmosphere is so peaceful and mysterious when the Christians head for the church, that each of them has the sensation that groups of angels glide through it.Each man has in his care a part of nature that he must elevate, together with himself, towards God, working on it, beautifying it, taking care of it actively and wisely. It is a pity to let the land untilled; it is a pity to till it perfunctorily.We anticipate here a remark to which we will come back. The Romanian has two great passions: his land and his faith. They are the two organic and essential realities of life. The Romanian feels that life streams from them. From the land, the life of the body; from God, the life of the soul. One can see here a mind that is not tempted by illusions. He waves away, with a firm gesture, the multitude of empty but pretentious appearances of the world, and he sees only the essential things, from which everything derives. Life close to the land and close to God is the only life well nourished with what he actually needs; it's the only healthy life, both from the physical point of view and from the moral-spiritual one.Let's note that the Romanian's connection to the world refers especially to the organic nature in its original existence: animals, vegetables, land, to the things created by God; not to the things made by man, to the manufactured products and to the substitutes. With these, the Romanian cannot establish a spiritual bond. The Romanian settled in the city wants to have a little garden near the house, a little piece of nature, and yearns for these in too exclusive brickwork.He feels a stranger among man-made things. He feels that the latter have no soul, that he cannot establish communication with them. Man can make and produce a lot of things, but everything made by human hand is different from the things made by God in the fact that they are only matter. There is no life in them, there is nothing that goes beyond the dead matter. The Romanian feels this and that is why he does not feel alone near a leaf of grass, whereas near a wall he does.One would be tempted to say that the Romanian is pantheistic, that for him the entire nature is God's body, God himself, or that in every part of nature he sees persons. But it is not like that. The Romanian knows that the bird or the cow is not a person like himself, even less a part of God, as he has towards them a feeling of pity and protection, a feeling of superiority. The truth is that the Romanian sees in them more than dead matter, he sees a certain feeling and understanding. They have their own grief, joys and perceptions. The Romanian realizes that it is too simple to divide the world only into man and matter. There is a nature that "groans", waiting for redemption as well, as Paul the Apostle says (Epistle to the Romans, 8:22). Something from the nature of a person – a small part – is shared with the animals as well. That is why the Romanian does not feel lonely among them. Western peoples see in nature only matter to exploit. This is because both Catholicism and Protestantism consider that man is everything and that there is nothing else besides him. The Romanian takes nature as a being; he is full of respect, of gentleness towards it. Orthodoxy gives it a feeling of cosmic union. Is there a woman who can imitate the bed of flowers in her clothes better than the Romanian woman? Is there any other people whose fairy tales mirror so much the belief that in a certain flower and in a certain bird there hides, through a transformation, the daughter of an emperor?The Romanian's behavior in the relationships between the individual and society is quite original. There are nations with inclinations towards collectivism, and there are nations with an exaggerated individualism. The Romanian solves the problem in a unique way, the only one that corresponds to the deeper tendencies of reality. He is very personal, but at the same time very sociable, very communicative. Romanian individualism is not like the German one. The Saxon of Transylvania is selfish and lonely; he encloses his household in Chinese walls and makes plans, always self-enclosed; he passes by morose, without greeting, without answering to greetings. The Romanian cannot bear loneliness; he mourns it in the doina. The lonely man is an abnormality among Romanians. Everyone has to get married; they mustn't look for the lonely corners, run away from the world unless they want to be considered crackpots. The Romanian's household is open to everyone's sight, it is set right up on the hill so as to be seen from far away, and so that the householder can see far away. The Romanian asks many people for advice and is known everywhere as a man with no secrets. The Romanian is friendly, as they say, he transforms the whole world into a large family.But at the same time, the Romanian is very personal. He always wants to stand out, to be more than the others, to make his existence conspicuous. However individualist the German is, when in society his individuality is effaced. It is the way he feels good: when he doesn't exist any more as a person and he immerses in the mass of uniform, militaristic, disciplined movements. The Romanian appreciates society for the pulse that it adds to his personality; he wants to have his own role in society, distinct from the others', he wants to make certain remarks that highlight his intelligence, he wants to make a spiritual comment and to sing something personal, but also to make something on his own so that his competence and diligence can be seen. He feels good in a group only if the group offers him the proper conditions for a growth in personal awareness. The laughter that echoes his joke, the approvals, the recognition of his value and above all, the flux of brotherhood that flows through the group, gives everyone the experience of an increase in vitality and in awareness. The person evolves spiritually, discovers itself, and develops precisely in the stimulating environment of the group.Thus, the community is not considered by Romanians as opposed to the person, but as a favorable environment to it; it is not conceived of as by the Germans for instance, or as by the communists, as a clod crusher that levels and mechanizes, reducing everyone to the same function, but as a body with different limbs and functions, according to Paul the Apostle's image of the Church (I Corinthians, 12). The Romanian conceives of society taking as an example the image of the Church. The Orthodox conception on the Church was filtered, through ways not so difficult to ascertain, in the Romanian spirit.In this way of solving the rapport between the individual and society is reflected the dogma of the Holy Trinity as well. Usually, man tries to live according to the way he thinks the God in whom he believes lives. In Orthodoxy, God is a being encompassing three persons, that is, a close intimacy between three selves, a common life among three subjects. Neither is the unity broken, nor do the persons fuse. Neither isolated selfish individuals, nor a mass in which the persons are stifled. But intimate union; in the family there is one soul, one thought, one will. Among friends it is the same. They almost communicate their thoughts without words. They live a common life.In God, there is an ideal family-like life, full of love: it is not accidental that a person is called Father and the other Son. This feeling of family, of familiarity is predominant in the Romanian's soul. It resolves the rapports between the individual and society brilliantly. The West altered the original belief about the Holy Trinity. For it, the Holy Spirit originates not only in the Father, but also in the Son. This has a great significance for the entire way one thinks and behaves. So as not to make the Holy Spirit composite, they say that the Father and the Son do not generate the Holy Spirit because they are two persons but because they are one being. The Holy Spirit doesn't come, they say, from two sources, but from a single one. But this means to say that everywhere, the being is the source of the person in the world, that nature, matter, the substance, what is common is at the origins, and the persons as distinct subjects are only afterwards, and inessential. This leads very easily – in the social life as well – to the disinterest towards the person, to its fusion with the mass.But even the idea of Church has lead in the West to the disruption of the synthesis between the person and society, promoting either the extreme of individualism, or that of socialism. (From the West came both individualism and socialism. Let's think about liberal individualism and about the socialism of so many utopians, including Marx. And what the totalitarian states offer us today is not tantamount to surpassing these extremes, but rather the sovereignty of the collectivity, even if it is national.)Papacy centralized all functions of the Church with the pope and, connected to this, the tendencies of standardization became more and more visible. Personalism, rehabilitated by Christianity, has been more and more disapproved of, especially as far as the thought and the organization of the Church are concerned. This explains the many facets of the West.There, the community is often conceived of as opposed to personality and repudiated. This is how individualist Protestantism was born and together with it, or after it and from it, all the other types of individualism. But this conception about the community had deeply permeated the blood of nations. This is why Germans, however individualist they might be in religious and intimately-personal matters, as soon as they want to do something for the community and resort for this to the benefits of the group, they level off, militarize, depersonalize. The extremes meet easily. However individualist Germans might be, they would not find it very difficult to put up with a communist regime. The idea of community, which is so fashionable today in German philosophy and politics, is closer to communism than to personalism.Something else happened to the peoples that remained faithful to Catholicism. Prevented from being validated personally in the higher intellectual domain and guided towards the path of pious feelings and deeds (deeds that should exceed the ordinary ones, that should bring an extra merit, as the belief in the power of the extra merit is a foremost dogma of Catholicism), they manifested themselves in the realm of sentimental creation and stand out through their passion for adventure which, when it encompasses larger circles, as any passion, it depersonalizes. Here is a radical distinction between our people and the other Latin peoples, which I think can only be explained by the difference in denomination. No one is more loath to adventure than a Romanian. In order to be able to get involved into an adventurous undertaking, you have to be able to become easily enthusiastic for a purpose which, when one contemplates lucidly, one can see that is unattainable or it isn't worth too much passion. Also necessary is a flimsy optimism: the belief that once the activity you set out for is completed, there disappears if not all the evil in the world, then definitely most of it. Catholicism promoted this optimism through its entire spirit. For Catholicism, the evil is not a serious reality. Human nature was not altered through original sin, and it will not experience any transformation through redemption, which is just a juristic act of acquittal on God's part.Catholicism is so optimistic that it encourages the believers in the ambition that they can do more good than they need, that they can easily go beyond the state of perfection, of ideal fulfillment. If one transposes this ambition on to a social level, the utopia is ready. In the Latin peoples, the utopia easily arouses enthusiasm. The Romanian whips with his satire any enthusiasm dedicated to utopia and any adventurous drive. The French had many utopian doctrinarians and the whole nation was engaged in the bloody adventure of the revolution for the three chimeras. The Romanians could not have done it. The Spanish fight with the bulls and find their expression in Don Quixote, who could not be found in the Romanian land. Today, their passion for adventure and utopia is so tragically validated in the fratricide war.With us, "the great principles" of the French revolution as well as the entire democratic utopia were not taken seriously by anyone. Those who devoted more sincerity to them succeeded only in being rabble-rousers. Everyone talks about them, in a general conspiracy, but no one takes the other one seriously. And this is what happens with any utopia. They sink into definite discredit, either because its supporter is openly mocked at or because one shows towards it a belief and a respect which it's obvious for everyone that it is actually missing.Revolutions have started almost in every country, and our people, close to the Bolshevik nidus and ragingly stirred by a demagogy that dominated us for such a long time, stood still; it listened to everyone, went home and sympathized with everyone. How many times must this nation have started a revolution if it had listened to us, the intellectuals, who are stirred by any speech and believe in the sincerity of any orator who cries for the country's welfare!Some say this attribute is a deficit, skepticism, a lack of generosity, a sign of old age, and our people will never be able to achieve anything great. The reality is different. Our people is not skeptical, but realistic; it has a lucid judgment and a calmness that is not easily disturbed. It infers correctly the point up to which reality can be changed with human powers. The Orthodox Church is aware of the profound reality of evil and knows that it cannot be completely defeated in this world. Perfection is situated at a moral distance which is unattainable on earth. Against evil one cannot fight efficiently but by self-effacement, through sacrifice, through ascesis, daily imposed on oneself; evil is not defeated permanently by evil, but only momentarily; evil can be defeated only by the goodness in you, which will not nestle inside you through a single burst of heroism, but through daily sustained effort. The Romanian does not believe in the exaggerated goodness of the orator, because he knows how hard goodness can be obtained. He knows that heaven cannot descend on earth through some laws and that is why he does not become enthusiastic at the utopian, and therefore insincere, discourses when they come from other Romanians. He knows that the social ideals, so closely dependent on the moral ones, are not achieved so easily, but they require extensive efforts. It's only the monks, in their endeavors towards the moral ideal, that the Romanian takes seriously.Utopian are the Latin peoples under the influence of Catholicism, and equally utopian are the peoples in which the sects and rationalism gained supremacy. The sects believe that solely God is active in man and in the world if man believes only in Him, and rationalists and atheists, not knowing of evil or of God, are convinced of the almightiness of human reason.All these individuals and all these peoples move the kingdom of heaven onto earth. They don't have therefore what to believe in, in the afterworld. This confusion of levels was made by the Russian Orthodox people as well, preparing thus the soul of the people for the Marxist eschatology. Orthodoxy didn't succeed in permeating the depths of the Russian soul. The Russians have become Christians late, and the centuries-long Mongolian dominion encouraged an abundant efflorescence of superstitions.The people permeated with Orthodox spirituality the most proves to be the Romanian one. It was born Christian. It doesn't have at its roots any other religious structure that could unsettle the Orthodox one. The very fact that it had lived for such a long time protected from other spiritual movements, only in the Christian faith, contributed to the definite crystallization of the soul in the spirit of Orthodoxy.The Romanian people proves thus to keep clearly apart the two levels of life: the earthly and the heavenly one. Hence, in its consciousness, the belief in the afterlife is clearer than with any other people. Because it knows that absolute goodness cannot be attained in this life.However, our people does not go that far in this direction as to believe that in the earthly world there can be found no spark of goodness in anyone, and in vain does man try to become better. This idea is to be found with the Protestant peoples, for instance the Prussians, and especially the Calvinist ones. The latter, by asserting that in vain does one try to become better in this world, foresee an unscrupulous behavior. One should not be careful when choosing the means in one's endeavor to become rich and powerful individually and collectively. That is why the respective peoples achieved a great political and economic status. The Romanian is compassionate, full of moral scruples. Without claiming to be able to become perfect, he knows that he has the duty to respect the moral law and to abide by it as much as possible.Is the absence of utopianism and of the adventure spirit from our people good or bad? However it might be considered, this is a reality and in it resides one of our original features. Nonetheless, I think it is not bad, but good. The passion for adventure can bring certain glamour in the life of a people, but it will not last. The fall after the discouragement and exhaustion can be fatal to it. We don't have the passion for adventure of the Latins, neither do we have the tendencies for domination of the Germans who, distrusting the possibility of achieving goodness, ruminate cynically, in their solitude, on plans of conquest; but neither do we have their inevitable risks and falls. We have another power, much stronger, through which we can become a great people and we can write many pages of brilliant spiritual culture: the high birth rate, because we are a faithful people, the charm and the kind-heartedness of our nature that assimilates any ethnos, and the Orthodoxy, which, if we preserve with all its moral and spiritual impulses and inspiration, can ensure us a long existence and an unimpeded advancement, the same way it preserved us in the former, much harder times. With his faith in God, the Romanian is powerful. He proved to be more powerful than any people. With God help me, he got through everything. God help me was in Romanian life the secret of success, the key to victory and the key of endurance. But without God, we are very weak. We feel this now, after the war, when God help me is gradually forgotten in politics, in education, in the household. We want to become powerful again, undefeated by any danger, to return to God, to the power of our people that has been confirmed in centuries! Let's return to faith in the organization of the state, in schools, in our social life, let's leave aside the models of the Western states, atheist and rationalist! We cannot become powerful through lack of faith, like some Western peoples, through belief in the basic instincts (Urtriebe) that we might consider more powerful than those of the other peoples because, once we have formed our soul in Orthodoxy, we have seen once and for all that the power of instincts is short-lived. We cannot do great deeds and win through adventure spirit because we are too realistic, and we cannot found empires on the basis of a messianic belief in the superiority of our nature and in the inferiority of the others, because we know that all the people belong to God and all of them have qualities and faults. But we can be powerful in our endeavor to protect our being and to express and make the edifice of this being eternal on the cultural level. We can thus be the most loved and admired people in Europe for the moral and artistic charm of the soul of our culture. We can achieve the most harmonious culture, thus the most perfect one in the world. We can win for ourselves the highest prestige of spiritual and artistic nobility; we have all the reasons to believe in a messianism of our own, in the sense in which every people might admire it and set it as its ideal. Regarding these thoughts and as an illustration of the possibilities that we evince in connection to this sort of messianism, we get to the most comprehensive and typical feature of our people: harmony. It represents a wonderful balance of its features and its relations with the world. It is another name for the just sense of reality. The Romanian is not exaggeratedly sentimental like the meridional people or like the Russian, nor is he an inquirer into the secrets of life like the German. Any exaggeration, any eccentricity is, for the Romanian, a disharmony that does not escape his minute attention or his irony. Feeling and reason balance each other. We cannot say that this is superficiality. But the Romanian avoids taking thought beyond the limits of clarity. He acknowledges the world of mysteries that surrounds us; he has the thrill of mystery but covers it with a discreet damper. Don't trap your mind in the depths of nature! "Do not look into these laws, for he who understands is mad!" Orthodoxy preaches faith; the results of reasoning are always something uncertain. Only Protestantism and sectarianism think they can dissolve faith into understanding. We have talked about the Romanian harmony in what concerns the relations between the individual and society, and from what we have discussed so far we can see the balance established, in the Romanian spirituality, between God's activity and that of man. Calvin's and the sectarian Protestantism, and sometimes the Lutheran one, ruin this balance in favor of God, considering man as carried by super- or subhuman forces and falling into sickly prophecies and messianism. We have seen that Catholicism ruins this balance in favor of man, and we have seen to what effects. No other people notice so quickly the deviations from harmony: the exaggerations in some direction or other. And there is nothing that the Romanian punishes more than the deviations from harmony. Any pathos lacks grace, from the Romanian's point of view. His art is harmony. In music, sadness is discreetly filtered, it does not pour out in the exaggerated overflows of the Russian songs of sadness. The doina is a song of sadness of a rare distinction. When he dances, the Romanian manifests his exuberance with some restraint. He does not roll on the ground like the Russian, he does not jump ungainly like the Tyrolese. Harmony and aestheticism are one and the same. The Romanian does not forget about aesthetics even in the moments of exuberance or of great pain. The cut of his clothes, the combination of colors, the nature of the designs move distinctly away from all crude adornments. Grace and sobriety meet in an admirable synthesis in Romanian art.
[1] Doina is a lyrical folk song, typical to Romanian folklore, which gives expression to different feelings: longing, grief, revolt, love, etc.[2] Prayer book or Euchologion.

by Dumitru Stăniloaie (1903-1993)